Review: Powerless (The Borders War #3) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

He was built to be invincible.

Powerless coverMerq Grayson and Armise Darcan return to the States, their mission to assassinate the remaining Committee members unfinished.  Why?  The President of the Revolution is in need of their services to protect the Revolution’s most important proponent for freedom, the President himself.  But all is not stable within the Revolution’s leadership and factions within are looking to supplant the President with another.

When the unthinkable happens and headquarters is breached,  relationships, friendships even old rivals are torn asunder.  In the wake of the devastation, Merq faces the ultimate of challenges and decisions forced on him by the very people he trusted. Armise, Simion and Neveed. And each with a different and explosive impact on Merq and his future with the Revolution.

When everything and everyone around Merq is falling apart or disappearing, it is only one man, Armise Darcan, that he wants at his side.  But Fate or something worse has other plans in store for Merq and Armise. Events are coming that neither man may survive, with or without each other.  What happens when the invincible turn out to be anything but invincible?

 

Powerful, intense and emotionally scorching….these are the words I would use to describe Powerless, the third story in the Borders War series by S.A. McAuley.  The complexity of and relationship between these two genetically modified warriors is only exceeded by the intrigue and deceit that McAuley has built into her elaborately layered plot.  And it all happens on a world that has been defiled, corrupted by three hundred years of war that has turned its seas into acid and its air into toxic clouds.  The author’s powerful world building elements are delivered in slivers of descriptions throughout the stories, that compiled,  present a stunning atmosphere of bleakness and despair in which these men live and operate.

With each story, S.A. McAuley offers up more of Merq and Armise’s back history.  In Powerless. we enter the story in February, Year 2539 Singapore—The Outposts. Merq Grayson is 15 and in the middle of Lim2—Limitation Elimination training needed to become a Peacekeeper.  The trials aren’t just arduous, they are deadly and only the strongest will survive.  And although Merq is a teenager in years, he is far older mentally and emotionally.  Already he is being stripped of his feelings and his humanity and he is aware of it happening.  Powerful stuff indeed because as we watch Merq’s younger self push himself to his physical limits we also see him internalize and hide his conflicting emotions. And as we read we are already aware of what that boy ultimately becomes…an almost invincible dehumanized soldier for the Revolution.

All of McAuley characters are such densely layered constructs, believable and flawed, even with all their genmod strengths and abilities.  They don’t know what they are capable of and neither does the reader.  It’s a gripping process of continual shocks and revelation that flows through all the stories, especially  this one.  What new discoveries are uncovered concerning their genmods?  What new insights into their pasts will surface with each treacherous twist and turn of McAuley’s intricate plot?  Will they be able to keep enough humanity to save each other and the rest of the world? Stellar questions all even as McAuley miserly doles out clues to the answers.

Merq Grayson is such a compelling and contradictory personality.  Although he appears so tough, almost superhuman in the first two stories, Powerless, starts the process of breaking him down into a person who is questioning everything about his life and his role in the  Revolution.  It’s painful and realistic.  And the scenes of Merq shattering (emotionally as well as physically)  are so vivid that McAuley makes his pain and fall almost visceral in its impact.

Armise Darcan is Merq’s equal in every way and he has to be to hold his own as a character and believable partner to such a warrior as Merq.  Armise has had as interesting an upbringing as Merq, although in different ways.  Both are genetically modified and yet Armise has held on to more of his humanity and ability to love than Merq.  How and why that is possible is also slowly coming to the surface in these stories too.

There will be no excerpts here as even the smallest paragraph might point to spoilers.  McAuley’s narrative is as paired down as the men themselves.  At times as stark as the landscape, it is fast paced and explosive as the Borders War reignite with horrible implications for the people we have come to know and the world population that still exists.  Some aspects of this story are absolutely chilling and the dread they conjure up for Merq and Armise as well as the future for all nations will be hard to dispel.

Some readers will ask if this is a romance and I am not sure how to answer them.  The connection and feelings between Merq and Armise are almost cellular in their need for each other. Love, yes, but at a level and intensity that speaks of blood and loss not flowers and hearts.   Romance can’t exist in this world and it doesn’t.  But a hard fought for love?  Even if they can’t say the word or even know if they trust each other? That you will find here at the core of this story and within the men themselves.  The only thing powerless about this book is the title.

One Breath, One Bullet (Borders War #1) and Dominant Predator (Borders War #2) were on my Best of 2013 list.  Now I add Powerless to this year’s list too.  This is an amazing series.  And with each new story, S.A. McAuley’s plot and her plans for Merq and Armise intensify and become more convoluted.  McAuley plans five books for this series.  The fourth book,  Falling One by One (Borders War #4), will be out later this year.  I, for one, can’t wait to see how where this talented author will take this series and these incredible characters next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh.  Strong cover, although I would wish for a little more of a science fiction feel to it.

Books in the Borders War series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the men and the universe building:

One Breathe, One Bullet (Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War, #2)
Powerless (The Borders War #3)
Falling One by One (The Borders War #4) to be released later on this year
Fifth Book as yet unnamed.

 Book Details:

ebook, 185 pages
Published March 28th 2014 by Totally Bound
ISBN139780857156839
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Borders War #3

Buy Links:     Totally Bound Publications       Amazon        ARe

Author Spotlight: S.A. McAuley and her Men of War Guest Blog and Contest

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spotlight on books

Powerless cover

   

  ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords

   Welcomes 

    S.A. McAuley, and her latest

release, Powerless(Borders War 3)

Contest:  S.A. McAuley has brought with her today one copy each of the first two books in the Borders War series (One Breath, One Bullet and Dominant Predator) to give away to one lucky reader.  To enter to win, please leave a comment with your email address where you can be reached at the end of this post.  Contest ends 5/28.

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The Illicit Rendezvous: To Dine with Merq and Armise or Not?

by S.A. McAuley

You know that question if you could invite anyone—fictional or real—to dinner, who would you invite? Well, Merq and Armise wouldn’t be on my short list. Okay, let’s be really honest, they wouldn’t even be on my long list.

I absolutely adore them, but at the same time, Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan scare the bejesus out of me. Merq in particular has very little connection to his own humanity, let alone anyone else’s, therefore he rarely considers the value of one life. Armise is the perfect killer and the only person he appears to have any interest in protecting is Merq—but even that’s not for sure. Both of them are battle-hardened and have an unflappable confidence in their own lethality.

I wouldn’t consider either of them to be inherently evil, though.

The world they live in is vastly different than ours. The ethical measures of what makes a person evil in our time—murder, lying, violence—are concepts that are blurred, at best, since the citizens of the year 2558 have been literally fighting for survival for over 300 years.

Both Merq and Armise have not only been raised in this world of perpetual war and class inequity, they’ve been trained since they were children (yes, literally kids) to be soldiers for their respective countries. They’ve never known real peace or stability. The family and friends they do have are relationships built on secrets and hidden motivations.

But that violence doesn’t fully define them either. It’s their inexplicable connection they can’t find a way to sever that keeps me writing on days when they and their world become overwhelming. It’s the bond they forge between the two of them—either because of their shared darkness or despite it—that makes them most interesting.

Almost tempting me to give them a dinner-and-drinks invite…

Almost.

S.A. McAuley

Powerless coverAbout Powerless:

He was built to be invincible.

Merq and Armise return to the States after their mission to assassinate the remaining Committee members only to find the leadership of the Revolution isn’t as stable as they had thought.

Outside forces come crashing down on a Revolution stronghold, leaving two of their soldiers gravely wounded. Merq’s history with his brothers in arms Simion and Neveed forces him into making decisions that will impact his future with the Revolution.

Merq has always identified as a soldier first. Always known who deserved his loyalty and who didn’t. But with the uncertainty surrounding the leadership of the Revolution, the mysterious disappearance of the jacquerie and increased activity with the PsychHAgs, Merq knows there are few people he can trust.

The only man Merq wants or needs at his side is Armise Darcan. But his reliance on his former enemy may be a miscalculation that will threaten everything Merq stands for.

Book Details:

ebook, 185 pages
Published March 28th 2014 by Totally Bound
ISBN139780857156839
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Borders War #3

Buy Links    Totally Bound            Amazon               ARe

About The Borders War series:

The Borders War By S.A. McAuley

The world has only recently emerged from a three-hundred-year war which saw half of the world’s population wiped out and the rise of five superpowers. Despite the hundreds of millions who died, the Borders War was nearly bloodless because of the sonicrifle—weaponized sound waves, tuned to their highest frequency, and harnessed to kill.
Merq Grayson has known only war. He is an orphan, a skilled Peacemaker, soldier, and sniper. And it is his destiny to right the wrong created by his grandfather six generations removed—the man who invented the sonicbullet.
Armise Darcan is his enemy. A sniper and Dark Ops officer who fought for the People’s Republic of Singapore in the Borders War, Armise may be the only person on the planet strong enough to keep Merq from completing his mission.
Their loyalties are to conflicting countries and diverging agendas, and despite the very real threat to their lives if they’re discovered, Merq and Armise keep finding their way into each other’s beds. It is a drive which Merq is sure will kill him one day.
But how much time either of them has is questionable. As Opposition is pitted against Revolution, the Borders War reignites, and Merq and Armise have to decide where, and with whom, their real loyalties lie.

Books in the Borders War series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the men and the universe building:

One Breathe, One Bullet (Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War, #2)
Powerless (The Borders War #3)

One Breathe One BulletDominant Predator cover

 

Rain, Rain Go Away and the Week Ahead in Reviews, Author Guest Blogs and Contests

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bradley-blvdAnd it rained, and rained and rained……again we got over 3 to 4 inches of rain this weekend.  On top of about 5 to 6 inches a week or so ago. To say that everything around here is soggy is an understatement.  I swear I can hear the concrete squish when cars roll by.  There was a Canada goose standing on my roof, honking away a couple of days ago.  Probably thought my house was an island in the midst of all that water.  Crazy thing.  Problem was that it was Huntington VA floodingright!  What’s next?  Trout?

As I watch all the water swirl away, I kept thinking what a waste.  I wish there was a logical way to capture it al and maybe ship it out to California or Texas where it is needed.  Instead of a oil pipeline, perhaps a rainwater express to help alleviate some of our flooding and the drought that our new weather  patterns has brought to that area.  Rain barrels are great things…so are water catchments but I have standing water now in places that once was completely dry.  Is water gardening in my near future?  It’s looking that way….

I have a great schedule this week.  S.A. McAuley is stopping by to talk about her Borders War series and the next in the series, Powerless.  Katey Hawthorne is here with the next story in her Fairies series.  Amelia C. Gormley is taking us into summer with  her Saugatuck Summer. Plus I’ve discovered a new author for me, Leona Carver, who will be here talking about her writing and the inspiration behind No Oceans Too Deep.  Another new author for me is J.K. Hogan and I Survived Seattle. There are book giveaways connected to each author guest post and book tour so don’t miss out on a day here!  Oh, and a cover reveal by Amanda Young too!

I will finish the week up with  John Inman’s Spirit.  I just love this author’s stories and he will be here the following week with John Inman’s Writing with Humor and his growing up in a small town.

I also have two Winner Announcemenst.  Winner of S.J. Frost’s Knight of Fire is Midia.  Congratulations to Midia and my thanks to S.J. Frost for the guest blog and book donation and to all who stopped by and left comments. And Congratulations to MizEqualityPatricia, winner of the Kimber Vale’s contest for Double Takes.  Thank you, Kimber, for the guest post and great contest!

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The Week Ahead at ScatteredThoughts:

  • Monday, May 19:          Author Spotlight with SA McAuley and Powerless (Contest)
  • Monday, May 19, pm: Powerless by SA McAuley
  • Tuesday, May 20:         Author Spotlight:  Katey Hawthorne on Fairies
    Tuesday, May 20:          I Survived Seattle by J.K. Hogan
  • Wed., May 21:                Amelia C. Gormley’s Saugatuck Summer Book Tour/Contest
  • Wed., May 21 pm          Cover Reveal for Amanda Young’s GWM Wanted Novel
  • Thursday, May 22:       Author Spotlight on Leona Carver and No Oceans Too Deep (Contest)
  • Thursday, May 22:       Quick Stop: The Surgeon’s Apprentice by Richard Longfellow (Contest)
  • Friday, May 23:            No Oceans Too Deep by Leona Carver
  • Sat., May 24:                  Spirit by John Inman

 

January 2014 Summary of Books Reviewed

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Winter trees longs

The new years has started with an explosion of wonderful books and new authors for me.  SE Jakes and two of her marvelous series dropped into my hands and heart so I will be passing those recommendations on to you.  SA McAuley released a new contemporary fiction novel, Treadmarks and Trademarks, the start of a new series.  Ditto Susan Laine with her Sparks & Drops.  LA Witt inspired with her gender shifter novel Static, a must read for all.  Shira Anthony’s Symphony In Blue brought her Blue Notes characters together for a series holiday story, perfect reading for all lovers of romance and music.  Horror, fantasy and comedy are all represented here as well as a great non fiction tale by Joel Derfner, Lawfully Wedded Husband:How My Gay Marriage Will Save The American Family, a must read.

So many great books, see what stories you have missed, and make a list.  And don’t forget to check out the best book covers of the month at the end.
*Key:Winter_2
S series
C contemporary
F-fantasy
SF-science fiction
PN-paranormal
SP-supernatural
H-historical
HR-horror
N-Nonfiction
YA-young adult

Rating Scale: 1 to 5, 5 stars is outstanding
5 Star Rating:

Catch A Ghost by SE Jakes C, S
Long Time Gone by SE Jakes C, S
Static by LA Witt, SF
Symphony In Blue by Shira Anthony, C, S
The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr, F
The Fall by Kate Sherwood C. S

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne, (4.5 stars) C, holiday
Dirty Deeds by SE Jakes (4.75 stars) C, S
Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot *4.5 stars) C
Horsing Around by Torquere Authors, (4.5 stars) A, C
In Discretion by Reesa Herberth (4.5 stars), SF
Lawfully Wedded Husband by Joel Derfner (4.75 stars) N
Refined Instincts by SJ Frost, (4 stars) SP, S
Serenading Stanley by John Inman (4.5 stars), C
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine (4.5 stars), P, S
Texas Christmas by R.J. Scott (4.75 stars), C, S
The Dreamer by M. King (4 stars), HR
The Lightning Moon by Sylvia A. Winters (4.75 stars) SP
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley (4.5 stars) C, S

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Ashland by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars) SP, S
The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendrick (3.75 stars) C, S
Tor by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars), SP, S

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Dime Novel by Dale Chase (2.75 stars) H

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:  None

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Best Book Covers of January 2014

This month includes just an overall gold star to LC Chase whose great covers include the Hell or High Water series and Dirty Deeds.

InDiscretion_500x750Mindscape_500x750Sparks & Drops cover

Tread Marks and Trademarks cover

Static coverCatch a Ghost cover

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In Discretion by Reesa Herberth, Artist Simone’
Mindscape by Tal Valante, Artist LC Chase, who is having an incredible year
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine, Artist Brooke Albrecht
Static by LA Witt, Artist LC Chase.  A Stunner with it’s Shifting Gender Person
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley, Wilde City Press, no artist credited

Mid January Blahs and The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Winter trees longs

Normally I love Winter.  I love the contrast of the bare limbs of the deciduous trees and the lush fullness of the evergreens, the sounds of foxes crying for mates, the owls hooting in the night and the crystal clear night sky with some of the most beautiful and recognizable constellations in the Northern hemisphere.  Orion rises high, glowing bright with its two first magnitude stars, one of easiest of the constellations to learn.

But this year its different. It’s mid January and already I can’t wait for the month and indeed winter to be over.  Winter has not even been that bad here in the DC Metro area.  So many other regions have had it so much worse this season that to complain about what little harsh weather we have had seems like whining.  But these last few months have been filled full of stress and anxiety over health issues, mine and others, that I am looking forward to Spring.

I can’t wait for the new buds, returning warm weather and longer days that herald the return of the season of renewal and new beginnings.  My gardens start to come alive, the birds are singing for mates and territory as nest building begins.  Winston and I can once again count on our daily walks around the neighborhood.  Ice, wind, and the cold keep me inside for a number of reasons and Winston stays with me in total agreement.

When the weather is agreeable out we go. He loves his walks as much as I do, actually more.  His steps are jaunty as we step out the door, his head on a swivel and that marvelous natural tail is on a constant wag.    I have never had a terrier before with a natural tail as other my rescues, Kirby and Willow included,  came with the typical terrier docked tail, one that comes with the birth of the terrier breeds.  A docked tail that was used to pull the dogs out of the holes and places where they had run their prey to ground.

Now those  little tails can wag, don’t get me wrong because they can wag up a storm.  But Winston’s ?  When a rabbit is spotted, he is in ecstasy and around and around it goes until it starts to resemble a helicopter ready to lift off.  A most amazing sight, one guaranteed to lift one’s spirits and brighten the day in an instant.  This spring will be our first Spring together.  I can’t wait to see his reactions to our first walks into a new season and all that it brings.  Come on, Spring!

Now here are the books to be reviewed this week:

Monday, Jan. 13:     Horsing Around Anthology

Tuesday, Jan. 14:     Tread Marks and Trademarks by S.A. McAuley

Wed., Jan. 15:            The Lightning Moon by Silvia A. Winters

Thurs, Jan. 16:          Tor (WWF #1) by Lynn Lorenz

Friday, Jan. 17:          Ashland (WWF#2) by Lynn Lorenz

Sat., Jan. 18:               The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendricks

Scattered Thoughts Summary of Reviews for October 2013

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October 2013 Summary of Book Reviews

It was a terrific month for books.  Sarah Black came out with her sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord titled The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari.  In my opinion it is the best book she has written to date, wide in scope with subtly nuanced characters that stay with you long after you have finished the story.  Also the Pulp Friction group of authors, (Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, Laura Harner and T.A. Webb) start to bring their interconnected series to a close with 4 outstanding stories to equal the memorable characters to be found within. S.A. McAuley also brought us the second novel in The Borders War series, Dominant Predator.  I love those men, and need more of their history and complicated relationship.  Sue Brown gave us The Isle of Wishes, second in the Isle of Wight series, plus Ariel Tachna’s Lang Downs series (one of my favorite) expanded to five with Conquer The Flames, a “must read” book for all.

Well, I will let this list speak for itself.  So many great books here that there is sure to be something for everyone.  Grab up your notepad, IPad or paper, and write down the titles for those stories you might have missed.  I have linked my reviews to each book.  Happy readings!

Lady Reading Book in Chair 50 style    


5 Star Rating:

Conquer The Flames (Lang Downs #4) by Ariel Tachna, contemporary
Chance In Hell (Chances Are #5) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Darkest Knight (City Knight #5) by T.A. Webb
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley
Duplicity (Triple Threat #5) by Laura Harner
Knights Out (City Knight #4) by T.A. Webb
The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black (contemporary, military)
Wicked Truths (Wicked’s Way #5) by Havan Fellows, contemporary
Wild Onions by Sarah Black (supernatural)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Enigma by Lloyd A. Meeker (4.25)(contemporary, paranormal)
Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore (4.5 )(fantasy)
Home Team by Jameson Dash (4)(contemporary)
Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2) by Sue Brown (contemporary)
Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)
Northern Star by Ethan Day (4.25)(contemporary)
Playing Ball Anthology (4.75)(contemporary, historical)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Burning Now by A.R. Moler (3)(fantasy, supernatural)
Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold (3)(contemporary)
Strange Angels by Andrea Speed (3.75)(supernatural)
The Night Visitor by Ewan Creed (3 stars)(contemporary, supernatural)
Wireless by L.A. Witt (3.5)(science fiction)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Justice (Leopard Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford (2)(shifters, supernatural)
The Unwanted, the Complete Collection by Westbrooke Jameson (2.5)(science fiction)

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:

None this month

Other Blogs:
Author Spotlight: Havan Fellows on Wicked’s Way Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Lee Brazil on Chances Are Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: T.A. Webb on City Knight Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Laura Harner on Triple Threat series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Wild Onions
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Writing Old Men and the second General release

Review: Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dominant Predator coverIt’s the year 2558 and the various governments that rose after the last world war (also known as the Borders War) had come together at their first attempt to revive the Olympic Games.  But instead of peace,  a revolution was started. With one bullet Merq Grayson both assassinated the Premier of an opposing nation and ignited the Borders War once more.  Merq was prepared to die in the aftermath of the assassination, instead, to his shock, the one man who has been both his lover and his enemy for 14 years saves him.  Armise Darcan,  the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore and the only equal Merq has ever known, defects in order to save his lover and enemy from death.

Now on the same side for the first time, Merq and Armise work together at the behest of the President. Their mission? To save Merq’s parents from the forces of the Opposition and assassinate those on the Committee who have defected to the Opposition’s side. But the Revolution is taking extreme losses from the forces of the Opposition and neither man is sure who to trust even within the Revolution itself.

Merq is also seeing first hand the effects of a stratified population, the extreme poor and the extremely wealthy.  Always so focused upon his missions, Merq had never really seen what the years of fighting had done to the people outside the political bunkers and now he is horrified by the blinders he so willingly wore.  Merq is evaluating not only himself but Armise too.  Armise gave up everything for Merq but is Merq prepared for what that means emotionally as well as physically?  Can two dominant predators come together, trusting each other fully in order to survive the Revolution and the resurrection of the Borders War?

What an incredible series and group of characters S.A. McAuley is giving us.  First introduced in the brutal story, One Breathe One Bullet, Merq Greysonand Armise Darcan are two black op snipers who have been going at each other head to head for over fourteen years from two opposing  countries.  Merq Grayson is a Peacemaker from the Continental States and Armise Darcan, a Black Ops from the People’s Republic of Singapore. In a beautiful twist, McAuley also makes them lovers for most of their careers as well as enemies.  Even when slicing each other open, they harbor intense feelings for each other that they are afraid to name.  I love the manner in which the author delivers this intense, intimate battle between Merq and Armise to the reader in scenes so vivid, so animalistic that they almost explode off the page one incendiary line after another.   It’s white hot, elemental and oh so sexy.

In Dominant Predator, S. A. McAuley also starts to flesh out the back histories for Merq and Armise that had been mostly absent in the first novel. Here we learn for the first time that both men have been genetically modified, something that had been only hinted at before.  But now we learn that the modifications are not only extreme but their nature is also unknown to the men they were made on.  Neither Merq or Armise realize the full extent to which their bodies have been modified, they don’t know exactly how they are affected and what all the modifications can and will do to them.  Merq, in fact, was modified while in the womb, an outlawed procedure.  And both men don’t know how and where the modifications were made.  The knowledge raises more questions about the two men than are answered by this installment.  And that is something this author does again and again.  McAuley dishes out information like specialized ammunition, in small increments and only when it will be the most explosive to the narrative, upping the level of anticipation and anxiety at the same time.

Both the plot and the characterizations are each others equal, much like Merq and Armise.  McAuley lays a web of deceit over all that transpires here, leaving the men to navigate a labrynth of intrigue so convoluted that everyone Merq and Armise is working for and against may change sides and loyalties almost instantaneously.  We as well as Merq and Armise are never sure who is the good guy and who is bad or if there is even such a thing anymore.  It is all dissolving before their eyes, all the rationale they were given, the certainty that the answers they had were real, nothing is as it seems.  Really, McAuley has created a world of smoke and mirrors  that will confound all who walk in it, including two “genetmod” snipers who find they only have each other to trust and rely on.

But the true heart of this story (and series) is the bond between Merq and Armise.  It’s a bond so strong, so magnetic that even the men don’t understand it and never have.  Even when the sex between them was as much a weapon as it was a release, the connection between the two continued to grow in strength and depth.  And now they are both on the same side, fighting for the Revolution, because Armise won’t be denied his spot at Merq’s side any longer.  Both men must move forward into the future together if they are to have one.  And that’s powerful stuff, indeed.

S.A. McAuley has promised five books for this series and is currently working on the third.  But will it be enough?  Merq and Armise are mesmerizing, larger than life personalities. In the past both men have also felt invulnerable but that is fading away along with Merq’s certainties about the men who have commanded his loyalties and the missions they sent him on.  Reality is setting in and I can’t wait to see where it takes Merq and Armise.  What a journey it has been already and the promise of much more to come from this amazing author will be worth the wait. Here is a taste of what to expect:

“You’ll never be stronger than I am, Merq,” Armise stated, the movement of his throat causing the blade to cut in farther. I eased the steel just a fraction away from his skin. He pressed his neck into the blade—with each centimetre of movement I was forced to either move the knife with him or to deepen the mark where his blood beaded—until his lips were nearly on mine. I relented, letting the steel fall away from his neck, but I spun the handle and gripped it in my fist.

Armise dipped his head down and rubbed his freshly shaven cheek over my lips and along my jaw. The feeling of it was foreign, his scent familiar, the desire now thrumming through me unavoidable.

“But,” he whispered against my skin, “that is why I’m here. We fight together and the world has no choice but to drop to their knees and beg for mercy.” I arched into him, and inhaled the fading scent of Singaporean balms, of him. I bit at his earlobe and scratched my jaw along his. “Mercy which neither of us is likely to give.” Armise dragged his lips across my neck and down to my collarbone and nipped at the fabric of my T-shirt. “Put the knife down, Merq,” he urged. His hands tugged at the hem of my shirt. “And take this off.”

If you are not familiar with this series, start at the beginning.  That’s a must if you are to understand the universe  McAuley is building and the men that stride across it like giants.  It’s compelling, it’s addictive and a must read on every level.

Cover art by Posh Gosh. This cover is just incredible, including the tattoo that has so much meaning for Merq and Armise.  It will be in my list of Best of 2013 this year.

One Breathe One Bullet (The Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN13 9781781844588
edition language English
series The Border Wars

And I Saw A Sea of Squirrels….and the Week Ahead in Reviews!

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And Then I Saw A Sea of Squirrels……grey squirrel drawing

Its fall and my patio and lawns are full of nature’s bounty, aka nuts.  Lots and lots of nuts and therefore lots and lots of squirrels (and deer but that’s for another story from this park naturalist).   This year is a high cycle year so all the oaks, hickories, and beech trees in my backyard were groaning under the weight of the nuts they bore.  And have now loosed them upon every surface available, turning every spare inch into a prickly hulled,DSCN4046 brown blanket or a mosaic of shiny hard bits and pieces of acorns to go along with the prickly hulls of the beech nut.  Of course the green golf balls of the black walnut are dropping too, sounding like hail during the worst of storms.

And my dogs hate this.

I don’t blame them.  Those prickly little bits and pieces hurt the pads of their paws, jagged hulls of shells courtesy of sharp squirrel teeth are just the right size to work themselves between the pads and wedging themselves firmly to great pain and discomfort.  No amount of sweeping is stopping the tide.  It’s relentless, a constant cacophony of sound followed by a carpet of discarded husks.DSCN4053

I think most people don’t realize that nuts are cyclical.  That each year the harvest is that much greater than the year before with the various animal populations that depend upon them for food expanding along with them.   And then the year that follows the one with the biggest yield is all but barren.  No nuts, or at least very little.  People start reporting seeing skinny or starving animals.  And they reason that such a thing helps to keep populations down.  And certainly that is true for the present day.  But not always.

Did you know people once saw seas of squirrels as they migrated through?

Yes, Eastern gray squirrels used to migrate, following the cycles of the oaks, and hickories and other nut bearing trees.  Back when the midwestern and eastern forests were one contiguous mass of forest.  Back before we started to carve out our settlements, and farms and cities. Back when there were only small farmsteads and villages that dotted the forests, tiny punctuation marks of humanity.

Then the animals lived much different lives than they do today.

One of my college professors,  Dr. Vagn Flyger wrote a report for the University of Maryland on a squirrel migration as recent as 1968.  Oh, how he loved squirrels and imparted that love to his students!  And this recent migration, from Vermont to Georgia, fascinated him.  You can read it here.  But even more fascinating are the earlier account of waves of squirrels so massive that it took days before the end of the hoard could be seen.  Or as Robert Kennicott in his article “The Quadrupeds of Illinois” in The Annual Report of the Commissioner of gray squirrelPatents for 1846 stated  “it took a month for the mess of squirrels to pass through the area.”*

Just imagine what that must have looked like! Tens of thousands, perhaps millions of squirrels following the wild harvest through the vast forest of the midwest and east, flowing like a grey furred river, leaping and bounding over every surface as they passed their way through the immediate area.   Here is another quote (from that  *same article ):

*In 1811, Charles Joseph Labrobe wrote in The Rambler in North America of a vast squirrel migration that autumn in Ohio: “A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”

No longer.

We still have them migrate occasionally.  The last reported one was likely 1998 in Arkansas but nothing like the vast migrations of the past.  And how can they with no massive forest or massive stands of trees, following the bounty of nuts and seeds as the cycles demanded?  Like the beaver before them, we have changed their natural history and lost something special in return.

Now the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is regarded as a cute backyard dweller or bird seed eating pest.  They get into attics or gnaw on wires.  We are amused by them, infuriated by them, and in some cases regarding bird feeders outsmarted by them.  They throw nuts at my dogs and tease them unmercifully and I laugh, of course.  They are a constant in my yard and a source of food for my owls and hawks.  They are as familiar to me as my wrens and woodpeckers…and my life would be poorer without them.

But once they moved across the land in rivers of energy and gray fur, millions of them covering the landscape and making people stop in their tracks, marveling to see such a sight.  Just once I wish I could have been there, standing beside those folks so I too could have said “and then I saw a sea of squirrels…”.

The Migration of the Grey Squirrels

by William Howitt

When in my youth I traveled
Throughout each north country,
Many a strange thing did I hear,
And many a strange thing to see.

But nothing was there pleased me more
Than when, in autumn brown,
I came, in the depths of the pathless woods,
To the grey squirrels’ town.

There were hundreds that in the hollow boles
Of the old, old trees did dwell,
And laid up store, hard by their door,
Of the sweet mast as it fell.

But soon the hungry wild swine came,
And with thievish snouts dug up
Their buried treasure, and left them not
So much as an acorn cup.

Then did they chatter in angry mood,
And one and all decree,
Into the forests of rich stone-pine
Over hill and dale to flee.

Over hill and dale, over hill and dale,
For many a league they went,
Like a troop of undaunted travelers
Governed by one consent.

But the hawk and the eagle, and peering owl,
Did dreadfully pursue;
When lo! to cut off their pilgrimage,
A broad stream lay in view.

But then did each wondrous creature show
His cunning and bravery;
With a piece of the pine-bark in his mouth,
Unto the stream came he;

And boldly his little bark he launched,
Without the least delay;
His busy tail was his upright sail,
And he merrily steered away.

Never was there a lovelier sight
Than that grey squirrels’ fleet;
And with anxious eyes I watched to see
What fortune it would meet.

Soon had they reached the rough mild-stream,
And ever and anon
I grieved to behold some bark wrecked,
And its little steersman gone.

But the main fleet stoutly held across;
I saw them leap to shore;
They entered the woods with a cry of joy,
For their perilous march was o’er.

Now for the Week Ahead in Reviews (and  Autumn Sedum in my garden):DSCN4051

Monday, Sept. 30:         Sonata by A.F. Henley

Tuesday, Oct. 1:              September Summary of Reviews

Wed., October 2:            Goblins by Melanie Tushmore

Thurs., October 3:         Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley

Friday, October 4:         The Isle of Wishes by Sue Brown

Sat., October 5:               Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb

Scattered Thoughts Book Review Summary for June 2013

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June 2013 has come and gone but some of the books I read that month continue to linger in my heart and mind, just some outstanding stories. As always, there is something for everyone here, from contemporary to paranormal books, terrific additions to wonderful series.  If you missed them the first time, here is your chance to check them out again:

5 Star Rating:

Hobbled by John Inman

Infected: Undertow by Andrea Speed

Mighty Casey by Willa Okati

One Breath, One Bullet by S.A.McAuley

Prelude by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Casual Weekend Thing by A.J. Thomas (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

A Silence Kept by Theo Fenraven (4.25 stars)(contemporary)

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean (4.75 stars)(science fiction)

Flawless by Cat Grant (4.25 stars)(contemporary)

Stonewall by Martin Duberman (4.25 stars) (non fiction)

The Hanged Man’s Ghost by Missouri Dalton (4.75 stars)(paranormal)

The Night Shift by Missouri Dalton (4.25 stars)(paranormal)(series)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay (3.5 stars) (contemporary)

Heart of the Race by Mary Calmes (3.75 stars) (contemporary)

In Search of a Story by Andrew Grey (3.25 stars) (contemporary)

When Dachshunds Ruled the Serengeti by Michael Murphy (3.75 stars) (contemporary)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

The Caveman and the Devil by Chris T. Kat (2.75 stars)(contemporary)

The Jouster’s Lance by A.J. Marcus (2.75 stars) (contemporary)

Review: One Breath One Bullet (The Borders War #1) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 stars out of  5

One Breathe One BulletThree hundred years of the Borders War has seen the world reduced to five nations.  In the year 2548, a treaty was signed ending the war, and ensuring a peace between countries, at least on the surface.  Now in the year 2558, all nationalities have gathered for the first Olympic games since the war started.  Attention from the world media and citizens are focused on two men and one competition, the Rifle competition which pits soldiers from each army against the other, this time in tournament rather than battle.   And one duel has been raised above them all, that between the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore, Armise Darcan and  the Continental States Peacemaker Merq Grayson.

Both men were trained from the very youngest of age to be the most highly skilled and dedicated soldier possible, and the most accurate sniper each side produced.  On mission after mission throughout the Borders War Merq and  Armise battled each other as they pursued the goals of their own countries, neither coming out ahead of the other.  And now they face each other once more, only this time on the field of competition.  But while their relationship has always been one of violence and physical brutality, they have also hidden another aspect to their relationship, one neither truly understands but is compelled to continue.

Against the backdrop of peace and the Olympic Games, another conflict is playing out, one that will have consequences not just for Merq and Armise but for the world they live in.  Only their skills and maybe something more will keep both men alive to survive another day.

One Breath One Bullet is only 80 pages long but within its small frame it packs a much larger punch and more powerful story than I could have imagined.  S.A. McAuley has created a world where war has raged for over three hundred years, with devastating results, wiping out half the world populations, reducing the planet’s air to a toxic cloud and numerous environs to desert unfit for human habitation.  McAuley’s descriptions paint a grim and despairing picture of the cost of prolonged warfare on both the planet and it citizens.  It’s a gritty, noxious universe and the author makes it horribly real in every aspect.

This is an intense story and at its heart are the two soldiers from opposing countries and ideologies. Despite being on opposing sides, Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan have much in common.  They are close in age and physique, even closer in their mentalities and emotional makeup.  These are brutal, dangerous predators masquerading as highly skilled soldiers at the top of their professions and yet, they are also something far more. Merq and Armise are also highly complicated personalities with more layers than can be described.  They will dishearten you with their characters and then turn around and astonish you with surprises.  McAuley has created, in Merq and Armise, two characters so real and memorable, that you will be insatiable in your need for more than just these 80 pages and luckily we will get them.

The story is told from Merq’s pov and jumps time periods from mission to mission.  Through Merq’s perspective, we see the world as it has become and watch the past as the two men compete to complete a search for an object both countries desperately want to acquire.  The real measure of each man slowly seeps out like a small blood trail the reader must follow to get to the truth behind the facades erected by man and nation.  Those expecting a romantic love story will be disappointed as the relationship between these men is not for the faint hearted but authentic to the characters we are slowly coming to know.  I don’t think I can adequately describe how compelling these brutal, war hardened men become or how thrilling and suspenseful the plot turns involved.  There are some beautiful twists and turns involved that just make this story and its characters all the more amazing considering the length of the book.

McAuley has created a three page Index at the end of the book detailing time lines, characters, glossary etc.  I am not a fan of this element as readers of my reviews already know.  Happily, I can report it is not necessary to refer to the Index to understand the basics of the world the author has created or some of the war weaponry used in the conflict.  McAuley folds that necessary information into the story just as it should be, making those pages interesting but optional.

One Breath, One Bullet is the opening salvo to a new series, The Borders War and I, for one, can’t wait for more.  The men, their world, and the events to come are deserving of a grand scale series to equal their measure.  I am confident in S.A. McAuley’s ability to deliver it.  Consider this a must have, must read and look for it on the Best of lists at the end of the year.

This is how the sage begins:

I hated the heat of the desert.

The mask on my face was confining, filling with the condensation of each breath I dragged into my lungs and forced back out in shallow gasps. The goggles over my eyes should have protected me from the yellow and grey cloud of Chemsense the Dark Continental Republic Army had unleashed on our battalion, but I could feel my eyes watering, the liquid gathering in pools that threatened to make my skin too damp to maintain the protective seal.

I was on my knees and I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped walking. I wasn’t far enough away yet. The shouts of the DCR soldiers—and the sonicpops of their weapons as they picked off States soldiers—were muffled but still too close. My body tilted, and I planted my hands into the sand without thought. I collapsed into the dune when my right shoulder ground together, bone against bone, tendons ripping. I thought those DCR goons had only managed to dislocate it, but this pain was worse than that—a grinding impact of racking, vision-blackening pain that didn’t ebb even when I flopped onto my back and let my arm lie unmoving in the scorching sand.

My mantra, pounded into me through years of training, repeated in my head as I consciously stilled my body.

One breath.

Inhale.

Hesitation is my enemy.

Solitude my ally.

Death the only real victory.

Exhale.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is disappointing.  Who is that cover model supposed to be?  And that modern shirt?  So many missed opportunities to do justice for such an incredible book.

Book Details:

ebook, 88 pages (includes excerpt from another Total E-Bound book)
Published June 3rd 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781843317 (ISBN13: 9781781843314)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=2133
seriesThe Borders War #1